Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Can Highland Park's boys basketball team replicate regular-season success in the playoffs?
UNIVERSITY PARK — What’s happening in the old practice gym off Westchester Avenue is exactly what you might expect. A collection of Highland Park players are concluding practice as they do every time, by shaking their coach’s hand. It is routine, the tradition of every team.
What’s happened in the Scots’ main competition gym and in other venues across the area has been unlike the other teams, surpassing all their expectations. Highland Park just completed a regular season in which it finished 27-2. It did not lose a district game. It has a victory against South Oak Cliff, and one of its losses came against 5A Richland. It is 12-1 in games decided by single digits.
“There’s not a whole lot of selfishness going on,” senior David Allen said. “Every player trusts every other player.”
Aside from the usual thoughts about better chemistry and requisite defense and execution, no one from Highland Park quite knows why the season has unfolded in this way. Even opponents are slightly confused.
When Rockwall coach Alan Simmons reflects back on his team’s loss to Highland Park last week, he realizes they should have won. They were up in the second half. They were up by 10 at one point in their first game against the Scots. They just didn’t close the game the way the Scots do.
“We’ve had several nights we just weren’t very good,” coach David Piehler said. “The guys have learned even when that happens we can still win.”
Against Rockwall last week, Allen remembers talking to a teammate at half-court while they were trailing in the fourth quarter and telling him that they would win. This demeanor change took root back in the fall because, well, everything else had changed. Highland Park was a senior-laden team last season; it lost four starters. That team had the 10-4A player of the year in Luke Turpin, but it had flaws, too.
Highland Park did not quite know how to react late in games. There was no consensus go-to player. It frequently played tentatively when it had a lead. Chemistry wasn’t as solid as it needed to be.
“We just mesh so much easier than every other year that I’ve been a part of,” senior Andrew Barnes said. “For some reason this year we get along together and have fun.”
When this group of players started practicing in the fall, the sophomores fit in as well as the seniors, who offered constructive criticism when needed. And they had a different Allen.
Last year, he was primarily a slasher, too one-dimensional for the best teams, failing when defenders offered him a jump shot. Hours in the gym turned him into this current incarnation. Allen has made 41 percent of his threes, and he gets to the free throw line often. In that victory against South Oak Cliff, he was the best on the floor, scoring 31 points.
“He’s a standout player,” SOC coach James Mays said. “He really stepped up when they played us. He is what makes them go.”
Last year, Highland Park lost to Frisco Liberty in the first round of the playoffs. It lost on a buzzer beater to Sherman the year before. Should it advance to the second round, it will face the tough competition of the Dallas ISD, which has owned the playoffs in recent years.
Piehler acknowledges the playoffs are a different beast, where unexpected outcomes occur, and the games are often close, won in the final minute. Of course, Highland Park hasn’t lost many of those this season.